Sunday, March 09, 2008

You're Weird by Caitlin Early

“You’re weird,” the words hit me hard. My cover is blown. Years spent trying to fit in and to earn my place at the cool girls’ lunch table is undone by two dreadful words. To make matters worse, it is coming from my 15-year old brother who effortlessly navigates hormones and high school, dressed in the latest Ed Hardy jeans and retro edition Jordan’s. Yes, ladies, he is the epitome of cool. I, unlike my stud of a brother, am not.

You may be wondering why a less than hip 24-year old is so concerned about what her pubescent brother thinks of her. If I could maintain some semblance of a self-esteem through high school and college, why all the sudden was I looking to a teenager to be my barometer of cool? I hit a low point. I recently returned from a two-year service program in Latin America. I went from Tuesdays in the parish kitchen, cooking gourmet meals with colorful, Chilean señoras to Tuesdays in my pajamas, unemployed, and living at home. I am the only person I know who can wake up at noon and not be late for work. I do not have places to go and people to see. I really am weird.

Yet there is something to be said for being weird. I have lived a life that most will never know. I had the chance to live in a poor, working class Chilean neighborhood, far from the touristy spots in the city center. I worked with people from all walks of life, rich, poor, young and old. I learned to speak another language and to create a life for myself in that new language. I made friendships with Chilean women that welcomed me into their homes as their hija, or daughter. I challenged myself to live a simpler life and to better define needs and wants. I learned to thrive in community with other volunteers, to confront conflicts and frustrations, and to find some amazing friends. Most importantly, I grew to know my true self, which in essence brought me into a closer, deeper relationship with God.

While my transition from Chile to the U.S. has been bumpy, I would not have it any other way. Upon leaving Chile, a dear friend told me that my tears and sadness were signs that the experience was not a two-year break from my real life. Chile was an important part of who I was and who I was becoming. If asked to do it again, to live the experience with its mixed bag of highs and lows, I would; I am a changed person because of it. To my friends and family, I am weird. What I chose to do was not normal and I now I am left to deal with the rewarding consequences of lasting friendships, emotional maturity, spiritual growth and a new perspective on life. Not too shabby if you ask me.

Deciding on a post-graduate service program can be a scary and overwhelming time in your life. Not only are you leaving the college comfort zone, saying goodbye to friends and contemplating your next step, but you are also trying to convince your parents that you are not crazy and that someday you will put your hard-earned degree to use. There are no guarantees that a service program will be a good fit for you or that it can live up to your expectations. Like any other major decision in life, you go on what you know at the time, you take a leap of faith and you hope for the best. It took me a long time to learn that life is just as unpredictable and messy in the U.S. as it is in any far off place. Trust yourself and take comfort in the fact that you do not know where this road will lead you. Buckle up, enjoy this roller coaster of a ride and keep an open mind.

I am also entering into a new phase of my life and once again nothing is settled or certain. I am not shielded from the scariness of life in spite of an amazing experience in Chile. I am just as vulnerable as any other twenty something that does not know where he or she is heading. The difference for me lies in that I can draw on great strength and support from my Chilean friends and from the life lessons I learned with them. The experience I lived cannot save me from fears or anxieties I have about the future; it empowers me to continue to live a life that is a real witness to a loving people in a thin country.

Caitlin saying good-bye to a close Chilean friend and co-worker, Marta.

Caitlin Early graduated from The University of Notre Dame in 2005. She volunteered with the Holy Cross Associates from 2005-2007 and lived in Santiago, Chile.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gotta love her insight.